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RFID tags are a vast yet hidden source of e-waste, so PulpaTronics removed the microchips

RFID tags are integral to tracking physical objects, from clothing in stores to luggage in airports. According to industry expert IDTechEx, 39.3 billion passive RFID tags will be sold in 2023, most of which are single-use. Since each tag features a microchip and a metal antenna, that adds up to a massive amount of e-waste flying under the radar.

A London-based startup is working on a solution: PulpaTronics is developing fully recyclable paper RFID tags without microchips and without using metal. Instead, a laser inscribes a conductive circuit directly onto paper, and information can be stored in the paper circuit instead of on a microchip.

PulpaTronics was conceived as a course project while its founders studied Innovation Design Engineering, a program jointly run by Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. Their paper-based innovation performed just as well as traditional tags in over 1,000 readings at Imperial College London's near-field communication lab. Part of the current cohort at climate innovation accelerator The Greenhouse, the startup is doing more prototyping and is in talks with retailers for real-world testing.

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Sustainable options usually come at a lower environmental, but higher financial cost. Not so with the paper RFID tag, which — according to calculations by PulpaTronics — would save money in addition to the resources needed for microchips and metal antennas. Since most businesses are profit-driven, which greener solution could your organization build (or boost!) that's disguised as a bargain?

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